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State Legislative Round-up: Relationships

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December 30, 2009

We’re posting a series of three posts outlining the progress made in state legislatures on LGBT issues in 2009. The first installment covered parenting. This second installment covers recognition of same-sex relationships.

The most visible and widely reported legislative action around LGBT issues this year were bills providing for same-sex marriage. On April 7, 2009, the Vermont legislature overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto, making Vermont the first state to pass same-sex marriage legislatively. New Hampshire and Maine followed in short order, with the District of Columbia joining just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, Maine’s same-sex marriage law was repealed by the voters before it went into effect.

Connecticut passed legislation codifying same-sex marriage, which has been available under a court ruling since last year. New York’s Assembly passed a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage there, but it failed in the New York Senate. Marriage bills were also introduced in Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

The Nevada legislature also overrode a gubernatorial veto to establish comprehensive domestic partnerships, while Washington passed a bill that expanded their domestic partnership system to include all the rights and obligations of marriage under state law. Washington’s bill was also challenged by referendum, but the repeal effort failed. The Hawaii House passed a bill that would have established civil unions, but it failed to get a vote in the full Senate. Bills to establish new comprehensive domestic partnership or civil union systems were introduced in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico and South Carolina, while a bill to expand the rights given by limited domestic partnerships was introduced in Maine.

Colorado passed a law establishing a designated beneficiary system, which grants some of the rights of marriage to unmarried couples, including same-sex couples. Arizona and Montana also introduced bills that would have created limited domestic partnerships of some form while a bill in Arkansas that would have banned municipalities from creating domestic partnership registries was defeated in committee. Bills that would have granted benefits to the same-sex partners of government employees were introduced in Arizona, Colorado and Virginia.

Constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage were introduced in Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wyoming. Fortunately, none of these bills passed. A bill to repeal the amendment banning same-sex marriage in the Virginia constitution was also introduced.

There were also several bills that sought to grant specific rights and benefits to same-sex couples. Maryland passed a law that exempts same-sex domestic partners from state inheritance taxes on the home they shared should one of them pass away (Indiana introduced, but did not pass, a similar law). Maryland also introduced a bill that would have required employers there to recognize domestic partners for the purposes of family and medical leave, which did not pass. The governor of Rhode Island vetoed a bill that would have added domestic partners to the list of people authorized to make funeral arrangements for each other. A bill was introduced in Indiana that would have granted hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples while another bill in Idaho would have required insurers to offer domestic partner coverage at the request of employers, but there was no action taken on either bill.

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